Most people's idea of a chastity belt probably comes from the Middle Ages, when artists would commonly show women wearing metal underwear fastened with a lock to which only their husbands or fathers held the key. Back then, it was a totally messed up way to control women's sexuality, though it turns out that Middle Ages' chastity belts didn't really exist. Instead, according to The Smithsonian, these devices only existed in art as a way of humorously depicting men's fear of being cuckolded or of their daughters' virtue being stolen.
The real chastity belts that you see in museums were created later, "as curiosities for the prurient, or as jokes for the tasteless," according to The Smithsonian. If you're disappointed by this news — don't be. Chastity belts are very real today and are frequently used in BDSM play as a way to control your partner's orgasm, according to kink website Kinkly. The basic idea is still the same: A chastity belt is made of metal or plastic and covers someone's genitals. There are versions made to cover vulvas as well as versions to lock up penises. No matter what your or your partner's anatomy is, every belt comes with a lock so that the person wearing the belt can't have their genitals touched — even by themselves — unless the person who has the key opens it. Typically, a belt made for penises locks in a flaccid position so that whoever is wearing it can't get an erection.
The locked-up nature makes chastity belts perfect for orgasm denial, a kink that's often used in BDSM spaces and involves making someone highly sexually aroused for a long period of time without the possibility of release. Maybe surprisingly, it's people with penises who enjoy having their genitals locked up the most, according to kinky sex blogger Cara Sutra. Most chastity belts sold now are cock cages and penis erection prevention devices, she writes.
But what's the benefit of locking someone's genitals in a cage and holding the key? As a BDSM dominatrix, Sutra finds chastity play extremely erotic. "Many men feel like the very core of their masculinity comes from their genitalia, having a penis and balls and being able to use them to perform in a sexual manner," she wrote. "Having this ability restricted or taken away makes them question their masculinity. This is a really potent blend of taboo, fear, and worry and that’s when the playful element of this part of BDSM really kicks in."
Although women and non-binary folk likely won't have the same kinds of attachment to their genitals as cisgender men, wearing chastity belts can still be an erotic way to play for them. Because even if the dominate partner isn't looking to humiliate their submissive by having them question gender roles, locking up someone's genitals gives the dom the key to their pleasure — literally. And that means that the submissive has to ask the dominate partner for any sort of release. Giving permission is often a part of BDSM play, but chastity belts make asking for permission absolutely necessary.
Depending on how long the submissive partner wears the belt, it can also make sure that their every sexual thought is focused on the person who holds the key. "Although discomfort is minor, the emotional impact is extreme," wrote another dominatrix, Ava Zhang. "He may have a change of heart and convince himself that his consensual lock-down was a mistake, crawling back to his Mistress and BEG (I love it when they beg) to be freed."